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Patrick Chun: First objective as Cougars’ new athletic director is to ‘learn Washington State’

PULLMAN – Patrick Chun said he’s stepping into his new athletic director position at Washington State as an “outsider.”

It’s not much of a stretch.

In Strongsville, Ohio – a suburb of Cleveland – he was raised by two South Korean immigrants who came to the United States five decades ago in pursuit of the American dream. Chun’s schooling was exclusively done in Ohio, first at Cleveland’s Holy Name High, then at Ohio State, which gave Chun his undergraduate degree and his first full-time job in collegiate athletics.

An AD vacancy on the sun-kissed shores of Boca Raton, Florida, at Florida Atlantic University, prompted Chun to leave the 150-mile belt of Ohio where he’d spent more than 30 years of his life.

Six years later, a can’t-miss opportunity to lead an athletic department at the Power Five level presented itself to Chun. WSU’s new athletic director brings an expertise in fundraising with him to Pullman, but phase one will largely be learning about the university he’s trying to sell.

“I am an outsider here and I recognize that,” Chun said Tuesday during a formal press conference to announce WSU’s new athletic director – the school’s 14th AD and, more notably, the first Asian-American AD at the Power Five level. “So I’m going to have to learn the lay of the land, learn the people, learn the customs, understand Washington State.”

For someone who’s spent less than a week on the Palouse, he’s off to a good start.

Chun spoke Tuesday at the Greg Rankich Club Room on the second level of Martin Stadium, outlining his vision for WSU athletics underneath a large mural depicting Shawn Landrum’s signature blocked punt in the 1988 Apple Cup.

“After meeting with the (search) committee, it was evident to me that this group was filled with people of integrity, people who love Washington State and people who have a disgust of the color purple,” Chun said, drawing chuckles from the crowd of approximately 100 that filled the club room for Tuesday’s introduction.

In his first interaction with Jason Gesser, the ex-WSU quarterback who works at the school as an Assistant Athletics Director of Development, Chun recalled the 2002 football game against his alma mater, Ohio State, that would’ve pushed Gesser’s Cougars into the national championship picture had they won.

The Buckeyes, Chun reminded, were victorious, 25-7.

“He quickly threw a jab at me,” Gesser laughed. “… So a very relatable guy. Funny right off the get-go. Going to be a guy that I think that can get along with everybody.”

WSU President Kirk Schulz said Chun was one of eight finalists for the position, and one of seven sitting athletic directors being considered. All eight received interviews, but Chun, batting leadoff, wowed the seven-person search committee to such an extent that one committee member suggested, “I think we’re done.”

“Pat’s experience, his vision, his passion, his work ethic will certainly lead us to the next level of success,” Schulz said.

On Tuesday, Chun and WSU were expected to finalize a five-year contract worth $650,000 annually. The deal also includes a $25,000 fundraising incentive plan that Schulz and Chun will mutually agree upon, in addition to a $25,000 retention bonus that Chun can collect if he completes his five-year contract.

Chun’s fundraising credentials, both at FAU and Ohio State, were perhaps the largest draw for Schulz and the leadership team that was tasked with scouring the country for WSU’s next AD. The credentials include raising the single-largest gift in FAU athletics history – a $16 million donation from the Schmidt Family Foundation – and setting fundraising records for three consecutive years at OSU, which amounted to $42 million by the time Chun left Columbus in 2012.

Regarding WSU’s current $8 million yearly athletic deficit, Chun said, “We’re not different than a lot of athletic departments around the country, so we’ll take a look at it and we’ll have a plan to manage it and make sure that we’re moving forward.”

Chun also said he plans to connect with his predecessor, Bill Moos, who left WSU in October to become the AD at the University of Nebraska. The two are currently locked in a “vicious game of phone tag,” Chun said, but “I know he invested his heart and soul into this place and the good thing about our industry is people want to help, so I look forward to connecting with Bill.”

In Boca Raton, Chun was charged with resurrecting the Owls’ football program – one that had won nine games from 2013-16. His hire of former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin was initially seen as controversial, though FAU followed by posting an 11-3 record and Kiffin’s polarizing personality gave the program a new level of exposure.

Many predict that Chun’s experience with Kiffin will help him relate to WSU’s Mike Leach, who’s also established a reputation as one of college football’s most candid and quirky coaches.

“Every coach is different,” Chun said. “I’ve worked with a vast array of coaches throughout my career. … My leadership style is more adaptive to who the person is and we just make sure coach Leach and the assistant coaches have what they need to be successful.”

Leach, who repeatedly stated his admiration for Moos, said Chun was “a tremendous candidate and brought a lot to the table and had worked with a lot of great people.”

Added Leach: “I was excited he was the guy that was selected.”

The sixth-year WSU coach recently spoke with both Kiffin and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer about Chun – each of whom, according to Leach, said the Cougars’ new AD was “a good, steady guy that paid his dues throughout his career.”

Chun has spoken with Leach briefly and intends on meeting with each of WSU’s coaches in the coming weeks. Asked if he planned to make any “immediate changes within the athletic department,” Chun responded, “No, I’m going to come in and just listen and learn.”

Tuesday’s press conference was originally supposed to be held last Wednesday, but WSU postponed Chun’s announcement after learning of Tyler Hilinski’s death. Chun opened his portion of the press conference with a statement on the WSU quarterback, who tragically took his own life last Tuesday.

“I did not know Tyler,” Chun said, “but I witnessed the enormous impact that he had on his teammates, this university and all of Cougar nation. The love shown by this tight-knit Washington State community is a great reflection of not only the love that Tyler showered on everyone that he touched, but also displays the incredible amount of kindness, compassion and resolve of this (WSU) community.”